Shaunda Kelly-Pringle, D.M.D., M.D.

Shaunda Kelly-Pringle, D.M.D., M.D.Dr. Kelly-Pringle, Chief of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (OMFS) at the Birmingham, Alabama VA Medical Center, says of her network of mentees from Alabama to Harvard: “They find me.” In 2011, she became the first Black/African-American woman to complete the OMFS program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry (UAB SOD), after earning both a D.M.D. (2005) and an M.D. (2008) from UAB. She served as Chief Resident at the VA Hospital before continuing her career full-time at the VA hospital and as an Assistant Professor at UAB SOD.

Dr. Kelly is a graduate of Oakwood College in Huntsville, AL, where she continues to mentor undergraduate students with professional career aspirations, especially for careers in oral surgery. She reflects on a student from Oakwood College, now at Harvard, that she is shepherding through the tedious application process for admission to an oral surgery program.

In reflecting on her own career, Dr. Kelly-Pringle remembers that her interest in oral surgery developed early in dental school, during years D2 and D3. For three years she worked on weekends as an assistant for an oral surgery resident, Dr. Pierre Holmes, before having a “shadowing” experience in the hospital’s operating room. She especially remembers the value of attending sessions held by the dental school’s Oral Surgery Interest Group, led by Dr. Peter Waite, and the mentoring she received while working as a research assistant to Dr. Patrick Louis.

Dr. Kelly-Pringle considers the quality of mentoring she received at UAB to be one of the most valuable assets of the MDFD Program. In her mind, the mentoring she received at various levels allows her to “reach back and grab someone else’s hand.” She reflects on multiple mentoring encounters that supported her research in mandibular ridge augmentation and in temporomandibular joint surgery, and the advice and encouragement she received related to her personal goals and interests.

In professions such as oral surgery, which has a sparsity of women, Dr. Kelly-Pringle valued the support received from a woman faculty member, Dr. Madelyn Coar. “She was like a rock who could understand my needs and help keep me focused on goals and priorities,” she says, thinking back on Dr. Coar’s unique role as a mentor. “I felt she cared about me.”

Dr. Kelly-Pringle currently mentors students at the predental, dental, advanced dental education and faculty levels. She participates in the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP), an enrichment program for medical and dental students; has one international student; and one mentee who is a dentist in private dental practice with aspirations of becoming an oral surgeon.

Dr. Kelly-Pringle advises her mentees to diversify influences at multiple levels in their career progression. They should seek mentors and advice from an individual who is in the current position to which they aspire, someone who will understand the daily challenges and can help them achieve their goals every step of the way.

“I have learned from mentoring and have forged new relationships with my mentees,” she says. “You can’t climb the ladder alone.”

Dr. Coar states, “The MDFD program served to enhance the school’s environment where underrepresented students saw and continue to see minority faculty serving as role models and leaders. The MDFD program was instrumental in helping generate and support a more racially and ethnically diverse workforce to meet the oral health needs of Alabama’s citizens.”